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Withholding The Rod
‘A Rebellious Son Never Existed And Never Will’
(Sanhedrin 71a)



Our Gemara cites a baraisa which asserts that the ben sorer u’morer (a rebellious son) described by the Torah (Devarim 21:18) never existed and never will exist due to the many criteria that such a boy must meet. For example, R. Yehuda derives that the mother and father of a ben sorer u’morer must be the same height and have the same appearance and voice. The baraisa explains that the Torah discusses this son nonetheless so that one can “drosh ve’kabbel sechar,” study it and receive reward.

A Matter Of Preemption

The Maharsha (ad. loc.) and Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (Ohr Yisrael, 31) explain that the ben sorer u’morer passage in the Torah teaches parents a lesson: If they do not discipline their children when they are young, it might be too late to do so when they are older. Thus, the reward one gets for studying this subject refers not only to the reward one gets for Torah study but the reward one gets from heeding its lesson and raising good and well-behaved children as a result.

Emulating Abraham

Alternatively, Rabbenu Bachya (Devarim 21:21), citing Rashba, explains that the Torah’s discussion of the ben sorer u’morer teaches us a lesson in loving Hashem. The parents of such a son are expected to hand their son over to beis din for execution. We thus learn that our love for Hashem is supposed to exceed our love for our children. We learn the same lesson from Abraham who was ready to follow Hashem’s command and sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.

Perhaps It Did Occur

Our Gemara quotes R. Yonasan who said, “I actually saw a ben sorer u’morer and even sat at his grave.” How do we reconcile this statement with the baraisa’s that such a son never existed?

Rabbenu Bachya (ibid.) suggests that R. Yonasan meant that he visited the grave of Avshalom, the wayward son of King David (whose behavior was similar to that of a ben sorer u’morer). The Chasam Sofer explains that R. Yonasan meant to say that the sinful and rebellious life of Avshalom is testimony to the Torah’s teaching that a rebellious and gluttonous child, who is incorrigible and beyond discipline, is destined to lead a life of robbery and murder.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.